The Egyptian government has approved a new controversial anti-terrorism law that makes it illegal to publish news reports that contradicts the government’s official accounts and statements in terrorism cases.
Under the new bill, yet to be signed into law by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, journalists face jail terms (at least two years) if they publish reports that contradict official figures, such as death tolls in jihadists attacks.
The new text was introduced after the latest Sinai deadly clashes between the Egyptian army and Islamic extremists. The military reported 17 soldiers were killed in the terror assaults, while foreign and local media said that between 50 and 70 soldiers lost their lives.
To avoid such confusion and conflicting reports, the Egyptian authorities have worked out this new legislation to be used against anyone who reports “false news or data about any terrorist operations that contradicts the official statements”.
Egyptian Journalists Union condemned the law, saying it imposes “new restrictions” on the news media. For the Union, the law denies journalists the right to gather information “from different sources”, and is a clear setback for freedom of thought and press.
Egyptian journalists say the new anti-terror legislation violates the country’s constitution and seeks to transform journalists into machines tasked with publishing official statements without thinking.
Rights groups have criticized other parts of the law which will also ban
The new bill raises concerns for foreign journalists working in Egypt, who had been summoned, days after the North Sinai attack, to a meeting at the Foreign Ministry during which they were given hand-outs containing a set of terminologies and instructions recording or broadcasting any part of a trial without court prior approval.to consider during reporting on events in Egypt.
They were instructed to incorporate a number of terminologies such as terrorist, extremist, criminal, executioner, assassin, destructive, fanatic, murderer instead of Islamist, Islamic groups, jihadist, Sheikh, prince, and any Islamic State various derivatives, as such terms, according to the Foreign Ministry, tarnish the image of Islam.
Last year three al-Jazeera English journalists were jailed on terrorism charges for between seven and ten years.